Dar es Salaam lost its "capital city" status to Dodoma. Here's how that could actually save the former capital.

Brian Lüdtke

Brian Lüdtke

Owner and Founder, Dodoma.com

19 May 2019

Dar es Salaam, Arabic for “House of Peace,” was the capital of Tanganyika, and then of Tanzania, for several decades after the United Republic’s independence in 1961. (It had been the provincial capital from 1891, when the Germans transfered the seat of power from Bagamoyo.)

giraffes, Ruaha National Park in Tanzania
Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Initially the city’s development was constrained by the government’s leftist “Ujamaa” scheme, which aimed to re-organize society by relocating city dwellers to collectivized village farmland.  In 1973, President Julius Nyerere, then the leader of a one-party state, announced that the capital city would move to Dodoma. A majority of the local party branches of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) voted in favor of the transfer, which made it official state policy.

Dar es Salaam at 6:30 AM this morning

At that time, with a population of 20,000, Dodoma did not even have a paved road linking it to the east.¹  The city lacked an international airport, as it still does today, and it also had little housing to accommodate officials and government workers. 

Without foreign investment, and explicitly fostering an experimental barter economy not apt to generate funds, the government unsurprisingly found itself with insufficient resources to execute its ambition of ennobling Dodoma as seat of power.

Dar es Salaam traffic and sunrise
The plan went into deep freeze for another generation.  
In 2006, subsequent a renewed push for moving the capital, construction finished on the new National Assembly building in Dodoma.  The executive, the ministries, and the High Court of the United Republic remained in Dar es Salaam.
Another halt to progress followed , another half-generation of inaction while Dar es Salaam remained the de facto capital, albeit with Dodoma now as the emerging legislative capital.
Skip ahead to 2015 when John Magufuli takes the oath of office. The Prime Minister and the ministries relocate to Dodoma; the prime minister’s residence actually having as its location Lion Rock, the large hill with a rocky cliff overlooking the city. 

 In April 2018, the president declares Dodoma to be the national capital, and in September, the National Assembly follows suit, passing the Dodoma Capital City Declaration Act, which explicitly and officially designates Dodoma as Tanzania’s one and only capital city.² 

Dar es Salaam traffic and sunrise

The president himself promises to relocate his residence and the entire executive branch before the close of 2019. 

Finally, Dodoma achieves its elevated dignity, both in the law and on the ground.

With the construction of a standard gauge rail through Dodoma, linking Rwanda and Central Africa with Tanzanian Indian Ocean Ports, the United Republic’s capital stands to gain logistical and commercial centrality.

With the prospect of an international airport and financing in place for a ring road, indeed many upcoming infrastructure projects will transform the new capital city, presumably all to the detriment of Dar es Salaam.  However, a closer look reveals that is not the case. 

Tanzania has 60 million people and is expected to have 300 million by the end of this century.³

Dar es Salaam alone could very well have over 70 million denizens by the year 2100.
Aside from mega-city downsides such as traffic congestion and pollution, such an incredibly-large mega-city presents unimaginable headaches in terms of the logistics of daily life, from water delivery to public school busing.  So many people all crammed together could affect qualify of life and make Bangladesh look like a sparsely-populated countryside.
Indeed, if Dodoma’s rise has as its outcome that Dar es Salaam finishes the century with “only” 50 million inhabitants, rather than 70, that should really have a positive impact on those who do live in the city.  Relatively speaking, they will have some elbow room, the ability to move around more easily, better city services, and less pollution.  

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